Net neutrality continues to be a hot-button topic in the digital marketing space – and for good reason. While internet service providers (who would gain the most from the regulation change) remain outspoken for deregulation, Facebook, Google, and Netflix have all issued statements on their support for the current regulations.

What is net neutrality, though, and what is the real impact that it has on the internet? Let’s take a closer look at how deregulation could change the internet not only within the digital marketing space but for all internet users.

What Is Net Neutrality, Anyway?

When we shop online as users (and digital marketers) we have certain expectations. We expect that our cable or phone company is connecting us to every website, application, and any other form of content we choose. We expect to be in charge of our internet experience – we expect net neutrality.

Net neutrality is the basic principle that service providers do not have the right to speed up, slow down, or block the applications and website we choose to visit. It can be thought of as the internet’s guiding principle: it preserves our right to surf the internet freely and at our own will.

Net neutrality provides a regulatory framework that specifically prohibits:

  • Blocking: Broadband providers do not have the right to block access to lawful content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices.
  • Throttling: Broadband providers can not deliberately target certain internet traffic to be delivered to users more slowly than other traffic.
  • Paid prioritization: Broadband providers can not favor certain internet traffic in exchange for consideration of any kind.

When all data on the internet is not treated equally, discrimination on certain websites or applications can occur.

‘Common Carriers’

As of the most recent decision by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2015, internet providers were classified as ‘common carriers.’ This is similar to that of telephone service providers, which requires by law that all traffic is handled the same way.

The current chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, however, seeks to limit government regulation of the internet in favor of corporate competition. Pai, representing the FCC, announced a vote on the order in December of 2017, which would repeal the current net neutrality rules and demolish equal access to the internet.

The FCC’s proposal, which they have unfittingly named “Restore Internet Freedom,” would:

  • Reinstate the “information service” classification of broadband internet access service first established on a bipartisan basis during the Clinton Administration.
  • Restore the determination that mobile broadband is not a “commercial mobile service” subject to heavy-handed regulation.
  • Restore the authority of the nation’s most experienced cop on the privacy beat – the Federal Trade Commission – to police the privacy practices of ISPs.

What Does This Mean For Digital Marketing?

It is no surprise that repealing net neutrality will fundamentally change the way marketer’s approach digital marketing.

For one, marketers and agencies will have to learn how to handle slow load speeds, even when following best practices for landing page optimization. This will in part be due to analytics being skewed due to an inevitably higher bounce rate.

Another issue will form for small brands when attempting to keep up with the enterprise-level companies, who will be able to persuade the service providers to be ranked higher in the search. Marketers working with small brands will be fighting to rank on the third or fourth page of SERP.

Businesses that cannot keep up with the increased price to use high-speed bandwidth will be at a disadvantage and have a difficult time getting their content in front of their audience, making it difficult for them to grow.

As for online marketing, what was once produced as free and premium content to engage users without costing them financially, could cost customers or digital marketers more money to view lesser-known websites.  Brands will be forced to pay top dollar so that their content is placed in the right places for maximum views.

There will also most likely be a rise in ads and content on neutral platforms, like Facebook. If the price of reaching prospects online due to new regulations increases, brands will turn their focus to online promotional opportunities.

Marketing in a Post-Net Neutrality Internet

By now you should have a pretty clear idea of just how dramatic of a shift, marketers will be forced to make in order to reach audiences in a post-net neutrality internet. In order for marketers to stay competitive online in 2018, follow these three suggestions:

1.      Increase channel and media flexibility

An end to net neutrality means that marketers will no longer be able to focus attention on the tactics we have developed to reach audiences online. In order to stay afloat, your current content marketing strategy will have to be revisited. Consider diversifying your PR and marketing efforts to a multitude of unique platforms. If one of your main sites is slowed by an ISP, you will want your PR and marketing efforts elsewhere.

Video content will most likely cost more to publish in 2018, so if you are going to produce this kind of content, spread it on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. If you can, produce your content in as many forms of media as possible.

2.      Prepare to spend more money

It is great to be a giant brand with a massive budget, isn’t it? The rest of us, however, will struggle to grow if we are not shelling out more bucks. Simply hosting a website could cost more. You will have to consider that third-party service providers, including influence marketing platforms, will encounter steeper charges, and those charges will trickle down to you.

You will have to consider where the increased budget will come from, and which areas can be trimmed down for the new budget requirements.

3.      Design content experiences that can handle it

Heightened prices and slow connections have the potential to drastically disrupt your content strategy. Interactive content, or content with video, is particularly risky, as these will require high-speed internet.

When audiences have trouble reaching this content, interactions with your brand will be altered. In order to keep audiences from losing brand loyalty, diversify your content offerings to limit potential losses of audience attention from existing channels.

When that happens, audience interactions with your brand online will likely change. What happens if your audiences can’t see your videos anymore, or if your content takes too long to load? Will those changes affect the strength of your relationship and how your audiences feel about your brand? Diversify your content offerings to limit potential losses of audience attention from existing channels.

The effects of the repeal of net neutrality could take many forms. It’s up to legislators, the courts, citizens, and ISPs to shape that future. Regardless of what happens, marketers should prepare for all possibilities.